The dramatic rise in Hispanic population that has occurred in many parts of the United States has been slow to come to Madison County. But it is coming.
According to the U.S. Census, the Hispanic population of the county more than doubled from 2000 to 2010. In the first census, 1,993 Hispanics comprised 1.5 percent of the county’s population. The last census shows 4,189 Hispanics comprising 3.2 percent of the county’s population.
Some Hispanics come to Madison County already speaking English and accustomed to the American way of life. Others don’t speak the language and may find the local culture unfamiliar, even threatening.
As citizens of a caring society that is open to outsiders, it is the responsibility of established Madison County residents to make newcomers feel welcome here. Part of that responsibility is to make sure that they have access to the same public services that help other residents.
A recent example of such outreach can be found in Elwood, where newly hired officer John Davis uses his fluency in Spanish to help local Latinos find protection in the law. When Hispanics are arrested for crimes, Davis can speak their language to ensure that they understand what’s happening to them. And Davis’ bilingual skills can come in handy during criminal investigations in interviewing witnesses and translating.
According to Davis (search for “John Davis” at theheraldbulletin.com for a recent article about him). he can help break through another cultural barrier than sometimes keeps Hispanics of Mexican heritage from interacting with police. Mexico is noted for police corruption and some folks of Mexican lineage naturally distrust law enforcement authorities.
Davis’ role in Elwood is not unique in Madison County. Other police departments include officers who can speak Spanish and are called upon to assist in cases involving Hispanics. The Anderson Police Department, for example, has three officers who can serve as interpreters.
If projections are accurate, the Hispanic population of Madison County will continue to rise, and people like Davis who dedicate themselves to helping those who may not understand English or local culture and customs will be crucial to making Madison County a place where all feel welcome and all can become productive members of society.